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Aug 22, 2014 11:56 AM

Keene, Winchester school leaders vow to work together


WINCHESTER — Winchester and Keene’s school leaders will resume regular meetings in an attempt to improve relations between the two districts, which have a shared interested in Winchester’s teen students.
The commitment followed a meeting Thursday between a team of Keene officials and the Winchester School Board to address concerns Winchester board members and parents say they’ve raised several times before. Winchester has sent its high school students to the 1,450-student Keene High School since 2003.
Keene’s business administrator also will attend an upcoming meeting to answer Winchester board members’ questions about tuition calculations.
Winchester officials have grown frustrated in recent years with what they say is a lack of information about how their students are doing at Keene High.
Some board members and residents have said the rising cost of tuition to attend Keene is unsustainable. Others feel that Winchester students are lost in a sea of students in Keene.
Besides Winchester, students from Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson, Stoddard, Sullivan and Surry attend Keene High.
“This is not easy for us to send our kids away,” Winchester board Chairman Richard Horton said. “They’re stripped of their sense of community.”
For the past year, a study committee approved at town meeting in 2012 has been researching whether a contract with the Keene School District provides the best option for Winchester students.
One major component of that, board members say, is determining how Winchester students are performing academically and socially at Keene.
In particular, members want to know whether Winchester students are taking advantage of all the opportunities attending a larger high school provides, such as a wide range of classes and extracurricular activities.
Yet gathering that data has been a source of irritation.
When former Keene High Principal Lynda C. “Lynne” Wagner presented an annual report to Winchester in June, board members tore it apart. There were inconsistencies in the data about grade-point averages, disciplinary action and extracurricular involvement, and a lot of missing information.
On Thursday, Keene High Interim Principal Jim Logan gave Winchester board members an updated report that answered some of their questions.
But it also led to others, including why so many Winchester students are placed in lower-level classes at Keene High School.
During the 2012-13 school year, almost three-quarters of Winchester students’ courses were foundations courses. Foundation-level classes are the lowest of four class levels at Keene.
Board members from each district agreed that it’d help to talk about how Keene places students in those courses, and what they can do to bring that number down.
“Moving forward, this conversation has got to be a year-long conversation,” Logan said. “It can’t be once a year or twice a year.”
Everyone agreed.
Logan also suggested using some of the time set aside in the school day for individual learning needs and small group meetings to gather all the Winchester students and talk with them about their concerns with Keene High.
“If they’re unhappy, they need to have the avenue to tell us that,” he said.
The conversation grew tense when questions were brought up about tuition prices and why prices haven’t been reduced, even when Keene has closed recent budgets with surpluses.
Winchester paid about $3.1 million to Keene for fewer than 200 students last year, Winchester board member Elisha Jackson said. Tuition rates have increased year after year.
This year, Winchester is paying $13,081 for each regular-education student and $29,000 for each special-education student.
The regular-education fee is average, Winchester board members said. But they think the special-education price is far too high.
“If you were a business, you wouldn’t be in business,” board member Jason Cardinale said.
Keene Superintendent Wayne E. Woolridge said at the beginning of the meeting that the high school offers more than 200 courses, including several AP and career-education classes. He highlighted a diverse collection of sports and clubs. He also touted the school’s staff recruitment, professional development and college and career counseling.
When adding all that together, Keene offers the best option for Winchester, Woolridge said.
“I think it’s a good deal for you, and we want you to think that, too,” he said.
Winchester board members said they were thankful to the Keene delegation of administrators and board members for coming to their board meeting.
“This is probably the most productive conversation we’ve had with your leadership,” Horton said.
But all the unhappiness they’ve voiced recently over their relationship with Keene wasn’t all of a sudden corrected.
Board member Kevin Bazan said he didn’t understand why Winchester had to ask so much. The town pays Keene tuition. It simply should be able to expect information and communication in return.
Horton made similar comments, and said he’s heard some of these promises about an open dialogue and changes before.
“Why has it taken this to get you guys here?”

Kaitlin Mulhere can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or kmulhere@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @KMulhereKS.


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